THE OTHERS @ Chevron Gardens gets 9/10

The Others @ Chevron Gardens

w/ Helium
Sunday, February 10, 2019


On a fresh Sunday night after a balmy Perth summer day, it felt good to be back at Chevron Gardens for a night of exploratory jazz by a trio of Australian music legends. The Others are trumpeter James Morrison, pianist Paul Grabowsky and drummer Kram from Spiderbait.

The experimental night exceeded expectations, and was a treat to experience in the spacious open-air venue with great sound and sightlines to the stage. The crowd was a blend of the older demographic of Morrison and Grabowsky’s vintage (hence the plastic seats in the mosh pit area), with some 90s indie rock survivors and quite a few younger people which was great to see.

First up were local Perth trio Helium, comprised of guitarist Jeremy Thompson, drummer Daniel Susnjar, and on keys Harry Mitchell, all clad in black. Their set featured excellent playing from all three, with the highly accomplished drumming keeping it all together, and some nifty bass pedal work by Mitchell. Susnjar also introduced the band and announced the “get what you see” original song titles such as Jeremy’s Tune, the impressionistic and moody Fields of Blue and, naturally, Song. Helium were a revelation who admirably warmed up the crowd to the jazzy proceedings of the evening. An inadvertent highlight was the breeze catching Thompson’s sheet music, peeling off each sheet one by one from the stand that elicited an “ooh” from the crowd and a chuckle from the band who did not drop a note. (N.B. audience comfort tip – no matter how hot the day, bring a jumper!)

The Others

The Others took the stage at just past 9pm, with Kram enthusiastically informing the curious audience that this was their third-ever performance, and would be “pure improv”.

The first piece began with a slow piano line that established a contemplative mood, but shortly thereafter things got weird and deep quickly. As promised, this was real improvisational jazz, with all three musicians exploring the sounds and bouncing off each other to take the music to constantly new places. The music was alternately beautiful and spacious, but would morph into some pretty far out sounds with a generous dollop of dissonance thrown in to give the tunes a serious edge to them. When all three were at full steam, the tone was similar to 1970s Return To Forever-style fusion, with Kram’s rolling snare and tom fills casting him in the roll of a second coming of double-kicking fusion great Billy Cobham.

The Others

The “Aussie jazz legends vs. indie rock drummer” worked amazingly well, largely owing to the intuitive reactions with which they’d respond to each other. You could sense that Kram held back his usual drum kit pummelling back somewhat, to respectively defer to the virtuoso statesmen and give them ample opportunity to let their genius shine. However, Kram was no bystander or simple time-keeper, as he would nudge Morrison and Grabowsky with subtle or occasionally in-your-face beats to throw curves and spanners into the improvised numbers, to which they would respond with surprising and often spectacular results.

Later in the set, to add an experimental wrinkle, the trio interacted physically with the stage and each other. First, Kram took to playing the IBC tanks that flank the stages with a rapid clatter of notes while Morrison and Grabowsky puffed and hammered their instruments in response. Later, Morrison got too near the drum kit, with Kram gently thwacking the trumpet with his sticks, even when Morrison put it flat on a floor tom while continuing to belt out the notes, with Morrison returning the favour by hitting cymbals with his trumpet as he beat a retreat back to his position on the stage. The physical playfulness in this scene mirrored what was happening with the sound, and what made the night special.

Near the end of the set, a ballady interlude gave way to a big trombone led number that headed off gently to the stars, before giving way to a fantastic swinging groove punctuated by a massive drum solo as a finale.

After some hugs and bows to a standing ovation, we were rewarded with a tom-tom led encore to take out the night.

The Others is an interesting counterpoint to internationally-acclaimed Australian jazz outfit The Necks: whereas the latter are all about restraint and composition, The Others are all impulse, even impetuousness. Sure, there were some “lost” moments where The Others seemed to paint themselves in a corner, as often occurs in truly improvisational music, but there was always an escape hatch to open out to another realm of possibilities. Based on the band’s masterful playing and the big grins on Morrison, Grabowsky, Kram (and the rapt audience)’s faces, this performance of The Others was a delight to experience, free and wild in parts, soft and nuanced in others, but also perpetually unpredictable with some incredible musicianship on show. That this all took place outdoors under the stars and cresent moon by the Swan River, made for a truly memorable evening of fantastic Australian music.


Photos by Nu Shade